Legislature report from Representative Albert Sommers
by Representative Albert Sommers, House District 20, Sublette County, Wyoming
December 19, 2013
Hello Sublette County, on December 10, I attended a meeting of the Select Committee on Education Accountability in Cheyenne. The Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) and the State Board of Education reviewed progress of the school accountability model, and the consultants suggested that updates are needed in the Equity Indicator of the model. The consultants also recognize more work needs to be done on the College and Career Readiness Indicator, and will take a look at some suggestions I communicated from Sublette County educators. To recap our previous discussions, Wyoming’s School Accountability Model includes four indicators; Achievement, Growth, Equity, and Readiness. As previously stated I am not a big fan of this model, because of loss of local control and the model’s complexity. I think the Equity and Readiness indicators are not ready, and over-complicate the system. The Select Committee also heard testimony on the Teacher and Leader Accountability Model, which appears to allow more local input and is not as reliant upon standardized test outcomes as the school model. Both accountability models rely on a system of supports from the Wyoming Department of Education, but after this aspect was discussed it was clear Wyoming is a long way from having a workable system of supports for districts.
The most contentious issue was Wyoming’s next generation student assessment. There has been discussion statewide over whether Wyoming will choose to continue down the path of belonging to the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC), a multi-state assessment system, or will we choose an off-the-shelf product, or will we develop our own assessment product? The question is whether a national assessment will dictate a national curriculum. Our current statutes do not allow us to utilize the SBAC assessment, due to requirements that assessments only utilize multiple choice questions. There are new technologies which allow some really innovative on-line testing methods and Wyoming needs to adjust its statutes accordingly, but lawmakers recognize this opens the gate for SBAC, which some lawmakers dislike. I prefer a Wyoming-developed assessment, but will be seeking advice on this issue from Sublette County’s school boards. Nothing was decided in this meeting, but likely some action will be taken on this issue during the upcoming session in February 2014.
Three bills were discussed and forwarded. The first reiterated Wyoming’s control over education, disallowing federal oversight and regulation of the required statewide education program. The second bill develops protection for student data, ensuring other entities or individuals cannot access Wyoming student data. Both of these bills were in response to citizens’ concerns about federal incursion into education and privacy. The third bill is multilayered and addresses several issues the Select Committee has looked at in the interim. Primarily the bill reduces the burden on districts with respect to documentation of graduation requirements, but it also opens the section of statute dealing with the state assessment, which is a vehicle for change during the session on this issue. This bill also changes the math requirement for graduation from 3 years to 4 years, and I would be interested in your opinion on that issue.
On December 12 and 13, I participated in a meeting of the Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Committee. The big agenda item on the first day was the discussion around "orphaned wells" in the coal bed methane gas fields of Wyoming, including over 4,000 wells either already declared "orphaned" or idle wells most at-risk of becoming "orphaned." The governor’s staff presented his "Wyoming Idle and Orphan Well Draft Plan,"an aggressive four-year plan to plug and reclamate these wells. The cost for plugging and reclamation is nearly 32 million dollars. Industry representatives spoke in favor of increasing the Conservation Tax, a tax completely funded by the oil and gas industryfor this purpose. My hat is off to the oil and gas industry for supporting this increase. However, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission, which administers the Conservation Tax, should have addressed this issue sooner. When a gas field is developed operators are required to be bonded, but bond amounts have not been sufficient to cover clean-ups. The Governor’s Energy Policy is looking at the bonding issue. The 4400"orphaned" wells are on fee and state leases, but several on federal leases are languishing as well. There appears to be no movement on the federal front.
We heard a report on the "Atomic Energy Agreement State Feasibility Study," which had been commissioned by legislature during last year’s session. The idea is to streamline the regulatory requirements of uranium mining, by making the state of Wyoming an "Agreement State." This is a lengthy process and would require Wyoming to hire around 10 personnel to administer the program. Discussion revolved around whether a funding system could be put in place to pay for administering the programwhich would be funded by uranium industry dollars. It was generally agreed that this could occur. More information on this issue will be researched and a final decision is in the future.
For several years, the legislature has been working on landfill remediation and closure/transfer programs, with substantial legislation and funding being approved last session. We passed a bill out of committee on December 13, which prioritizes projects around the state and sets maximum expenditures. Another bill that passed out of committee provides more flexibility to communities in transferring trash from newly funded closure/transfer sites to existing landfills. Landfill remediation is expensive, but a solid program has been developed and partially funded. Eventually, the state hopes to move some of the dollars currently deployed for underground fuel tank clean-ups, when that program has run its course, into landfill remediation.
Last legislative session, a bill was passed to look at transferring federal lands in Wyoming to the control of the State of Wyoming, and a legislative task force was formed. Its recommendation was a bill presented to the Minerals Committee which would create a Select Committee on the Transfer of Public Lands. I voted against this bill, but in favor of another bill which would put this issue under the control of the already existing Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee. In my opinion, there are too many select committees in the legislature, and standing committees seem to have a hard time getting their work done, because of scheduling conflicts with other standing and select committees. Select committees take some of the best issues away from the standing committees, and I am not sure that is good governance. Both bills passed the committee, and the whole legislature will decide which approach is best, if any.One important note, both bills exclude transfer of National Parks and federal wilderness areas to Wyoming. Western states lost the battle for ownership of federal lands within their borders during the "Sagebrush Rebellion" of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and I doubt this issue will gain much traction now.
House District 20, Sublette County, Wyoming